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Can Americans Make Anime?

Chris O’Brien | 30 Jul 2012 10:00
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Find the biggest bowl you own and inside of it, place one protagonist with powerful and unique abilities. Next, pour in an exceptionally talented team of supportive friends. Then, add a seemingly impervious villain who aims to remake the world according to his own warped ideals. Throw in a few dashes of strong themes like family, friendship, fear, and death, blend it all together with plenty of beautiful visuals and flawless voice acting.

Anime has been around and popular for so long, its influence now stretches far outside the confines of the tiny island country in the Pacific from which it originates.

While this collection of qualities could easily describe any number of anime, including popular and acclaimed series such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Bleach, or Trigun, it just as accurately describes Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra.

However, Korra seems unwelcome in most conversations about anime as many fans of the form believe that it does not belong under the label. Had the series been produced in Japan by a predominantly Japanese creative team, it wouldn't even be a question; obviously, the series is an anime. It looks like anime, it sounds like anime, it features the common tropes and archetypes of anime, and it boasts talented voice artists, such as Steve Blum, who are best known for their work in anime. Like other anime, it even inspires thousands of fans to dress like characters at San Diego Comic Con and re-enact scenes from the show.

The only glaring omission that separates Korra from most anime is the lack of lengthy opening and ending sequences set to a recent song by an all-female J-Pop group depicting the primary cast of characters running through a countryside, battling yet-to-be-introduced rivals, striking confident poses on a windy hill, and holding hands as they look wistfully at a city skyline. Well, that and when the credits role, there's a noticeable shortage of Japanese names, because Korra wasn't made in Japan.

If the term "anime" refers only to animation created by a Japanese animation team, produced in Japan, and developed for a Japanese audience, then obviously the answer to the question "Can anyone outside of Japan make Anime?" is unequivocally "No."

Yet, anime has been around and popular for so long, its influence now stretches far outside the confines of the tiny island country in the Pacific from which it originates. Korra and its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender are only two of many examples of American cartoons that may reasonably be considered anime, along with Teen Titans, The Power Puff Girls, Ben 10, The Boondocks, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the 2003 animated series).

Consider alcohol for a moment, specifically bourbon. According to U.S. and Canadian law, it is illegal to label any product as "bourbon," unless it is made in the United States. It must also be from at least 51 percent corn, distilled to no more than 160 proof, entered into new, charred oak barrels to age at no more than 125 proof, and bottled at 80 proof or more. However, even if a spirit meets all other criteria, if it's not made in the USA, it can't be called "bourbon."

The definitions described above are the sort developed by politicians for regulatory purposes, usually to reduce competition domestically and abroad and favor a select few individuals, ensuring profits and their ever-growing wealth. It's not particularly useful for consumers who are more concerned with what a thing does (or how it tastes) than where a thing is from and the minute details of how it was made.

It seems a bit silly. Does anyone pull up Jack Daniels' Wikipedia page to see where or how it was made before enjoying it? No. They just drink it, because they like the taste or because "drunk" is the desired destination and whiskey is particularly effective means of getting from point A to point B.

The same is true of anime. When was the last time you saw an interesting anime DVD on a store shelf, went to buy it, and just before paying, hesitated for a moment to check the box that it was actually produced in Japan?

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